You know that longing for homemade food or that restaurant you used to go to in childhood or at another happy moment in life? Now imagine that for those who live far from Brazil? More than 4.2 million Brazilians live abroad, according to data from Itamaraty. Certainly, now outside their homeland, these Brazilian immigrants give another value to their daily rice and beans.
Those who leave Brazil to live in another country carry food in their hearts and often in their suitcases as well. It is not uncommon to find in the luggage of Brazilian immigrants products such as carioca beans, guava paste, manioc flour, sago, palm oil and other ingredients typical of our table and difficult to find outside of here.
“Food is about identity, it communicates who we are. This is true for everyone, but it ends up being even stronger for those who move to other cultural contexts, as is the case of Brazilians abroad, because the contact with difference causes an inward look and places food as an important tool for recognition and belonging, differentiation and adaptation to these new realities”, explains anthropologist and communicologist Joana Pellerano.
For the immigrant, the role of food from the home country goes far beyond nourishing, and has everything to do with the concept of comfort foodthat little food that is not only good for the body, but also messes with memory, emotions, affections.
“This power of food to materialize identity means that, by eating, we can connect with who we are and where we come from. It also connects us with memories of other times when we consumed the same food: when we were at home, with family, with friends”, explains Joana, who is also coordinator of the Comida na Cabeça website, which promotes scientific dissemination of studies on food. .
As Brazil is a huge and diverse country, it is difficult to list which foods most represent our identity. But some dishes are national passions from North to South and are part of the collective imagination of Tupiniquim cuisine. Included in this list are the classic rice and beans, barbecue, feijoada, moqueca and brigadeiro.
What makes Thais de Lima’s heart beat faster with nostalgia is the fresh coconut water, which is hard to get in London, where she has lived for over 15 years. “I miss so much. When there is fresh coconut water here, it comes from Asia, it tastes different. The box ones, then, don’t even talk”, she compares her.
With the advantage of living in a multicultural city, the resource manager and tour guide found substitutes for other genuinely Brazilian products in immigrant markets throughout the British capital. “I discovered a Turkish/Greek cheese called halloumi that looks a lot like coalho cheese, so I always use it to make tapioca or baked cheese. There’s also a curd cheese, also Turkish, that looks a lot like our Brazilian”.
With the adaptations, Thais manages to keep at home a menu with roots from Ceará, which even had green beans from Africa, and which, according to her, was very similar to the one from Brazil, so known and loved by the Northeasterners.
“I think my greatest pride is having passed on my love for Brazilian cuisine to children. One of my daughters loves guava, cashew and feijoada and the other loves tapioca and farofa”, she says. When a friend or relative travels from Fortaleza to London, Thais usually asks in her suitcase for a good batch of well-married people, the famous wedding souvenir.
Cream cheese is not the same as cottage cheese.
Newly arrived in Atlanta, United States, actor André Melgaço has only missed caipirinha and curd cheese until now. “Cream cheese is not the same thing”, he compares. As a good miner, he is also concerned about cheese bread, but he has already received recommendations for places where he can find the frozen preparation.
Despite being surprised by the lack of some fruits in supermarkets, such as the various types of bananas available in Brazil, André says that he is taking the opportunity to try others that are more common and more accessible in the United States, such as blueberries, raspberries and cherries.
“In general, from what I cook at home on a daily basis, so far I have found everything. There is a city nearby that has a large community of Brazilians and there are markets that sell picanha, frozen cheese bread, dulce de leche, guarana”, she says. Just in case, in his suitcase for moving to the US, André took a bottle of good cachaça from Minas Gerais, which is kept for special occasions.
Beans, but not much
If in large cities or with many Brazilian immigrants it is easy to find national foods, for those who live in the countryside, homesickness can be more pressing. A resident of Santa Fe, Argentina, 450 kilometers from Buenos Aires, biologist Mariana Caldas had to learn to adapt to compensate for the lack of ingredients.
“What I miss the most is carioca beans, which I can’t find, I had to exchange them for white or black, which here is very different from ours. I also miss cabbage, yams, okra, papaya, tapioca. For the rest, we find a way, adapt, I always use the old phrase that I’m Brazilian and I never give up, so if I feel like eating something I go after it and do it, sometimes it’s kind of generic, but I do it like this even”, he says.
When she arrived in Argentina in 2015, Mariana turned Brazilian recipes into a small business and started selling homemade carrot cakes with chocolate, corn, coconut and others. Sales lasted for a few years and even after she stopped producing, she continued to be invited by Argentine friends to cook Brazilian dishes at parties and meetings. Feijoada and passion fruit mousse are the most requested.
More than satisfying hunger, food kills Brazilian immigrants’ homesickness
More than satisfying hunger, Mariana says that the food she used to have on the table in Brasília, the city where she grew up, kills the nostalgia of her homeland.
“For example, carioca beans remind me a lot of Saturday lunch or coming home after work and smelling the beans my mother made, that smell of garlic and bay leaf, it takes me back not only to Brazil , but my mother’s house, and it helps me to kill the longing.”
And speaking of nostalgia, at the beginning of June, Mariana and four other Brazilian friends who live in the same city held a small June party to satisfy their craving for typical foods for this time of year. It was decorated with flags, forró, hominy and even hot water to face the Argentine cold.
As well as the São João menu, other typical dishes for special occasions also make Brazilians feel nostalgic away from home, especially when they realize that not everyone eats turkey and pavé at Christmas or cod at Easter, for example.
Newark (USA) has restaurants and markets with typical Brazilian food
Often, the relationship with food is so important that the lack of it translates the country’s own nostalgia. “Brazilian food for me is Bahian food,” says hotel manager Suzana Gehshan, who has lived in New Jersey, in the United States, since 2008, and to this day has difficulty finding palm oil there. “And when you’re from Bahia, this is sorely missed, because it’s very specific to our food.”
At home, Suzana says she usually cooks the basic pairing of rice and beans and over time she started to combine these flavors with more American habits. When she craves more typical dishes, she goes to nearby Newark, the city with the highest concentration of Brazilian immigrants in the United States, where she finds a wide variety of restaurants and shops for compatriots.
“There is a lot of Brazilian food there, mainly barbecue, that’s where I miss you. But really Bahian food, there’s no way around it, it’s very hard to find. My sister lived in Boston for a while and there we found a very small restaurant that was delicious, but I can’t find Bahian food here, so whenever I go to Salvador I focus on regional food.”
Asian markets have ingredients similar to Brazilians
On the other side of the world, on the Sunshine Coast, in Australia, nurse Gabriela Gazar Daltro also misses Bahia and acarajé, but she is lucky enough to be able to eat moqueca and feijoada whenever she feels like it. That’s because her mother also moved to another country to help her take care of her twin children and makes a point of cooking homemade Brazilian food for her grandchildren.
“She finds the ingredients around, she always appears talking about a new store that sells Brazilian or even Asian ingredients, which look like ours. Cassava, for example, she buys cassava in the Asian market,” she says.
In addition to the famous black-eyed bean cake, Gabriela says she misses the Brazilian custom of eating fried fish on the beach, even though she lives in an Australian city by the sea. Living away from Brazil for 13 years, she says that national food in this context also has another flavor, that of the reunion between countrymen around the table.
“Food certainly plays an affective role in the immigrant’s life, as if, somehow, we could have this little piece of our land back. Mainly because Brazilians get together to make Brazilian food, so together the food with the people, we feel at home”.